Tuesday, January 31, 2012

"Visiting" fishermen say Gamefish Protection would benefit Coastal Tourism and Economies by Jerry Dilsaver

‘Visiting’ fishermen say gamefish protection would benefit coastal tourism and economies
Out-of-state tournament fishermen promise they won’t return until net conflicts are resolved; tournament trail eliminates annual visit

By Jerry Dilsaver

Even in the current depressed economy, fishermen plan their vacations around catching fish. It’s the opinion of many fishermen that North Carolina is losing out on plenty of tourist dollars that could wind up in the state’s economy if the legislature designates red drum, speckled trout and striped bass as gamefish.

Proponents of gamefish status for those three species believe that having them in abundance would be good for economies in coastal areas, that a healthy recreational fishery would bring more anglers to North Carolina, creating jobs and providing an economic boost. This belief is shared by many fishermen from North Carolina and other states. What is certain is that constant conflict over saltwater fisheries is in no way positive, and several fishermen whose travels to the coast have been changed have no problem explaining why North Carolina won’t be a destination until the situation changes.

James McManus of Sylva, N.C., guides fishermen in several lakes, rivers and streams in North Carolina’s western mountains and is a former competitor on the Inshore Fishing Association (IFA) redfish tour. He enjoys fishing for red drum and speckled trout and would like to do more of it in North Carolina, but his experiences on the IFA Tour have him heading to Florida for his red drum and speckled trout.

“I am a North Carolina citizen and would love to fish here more, but I can’t take the chance that I could drive from the mountains and then find my fishing area wrapped up in nets or fished out when I arrive,” McManus said. “I go tuna fishing on the Outer Banks once or twice a year, and I would love to take my bay boat down and stay a few extra days. However, the fishing is too uncertain for the expense and taking time off work. 

“When I vacation, instead of heading for the North Carolina coast, I pack up my family and drive to Steinhatchee, Fla.,” McManus said. “Florida gave gamefish status to red drum about 20 years ago and doesn’t allow gill nets in inshore waters. I can go there and fish unobstructed water and catch fish. It’s a longer drive and costs more, but it’s well worth it.”

          Rob Beglin of Pawley’s Island, S.C., is another IFA redfish pro who has had some negative experiences fishing tournaments in North Carolina. He said he doesn’t plan to return to North Carolina until the fishery laws change.

          “The North Carolina coast reminds me of Louisiana, and I was expecting a fishery that was similar when I first went there for a tournament several years ago,” Beglin said. “My fishing partner and I went a week early to familiarize ourselves with the waters and locate some fish and were happy the night before the tournament. We found some upper-slot reds in a bay on Wednesday, and they were still there Thursday and Friday, so we felt good about our chances for the tournament.

          “When we got to the shallow bay on Saturday morning, it was criss-crossed with nets, and a commercial fisherman was at the mouth crossing back and forth as if to dare us to try to go in,” Beglin said. “We left and didn’t challenge him. Later, someone told us the fisherman was probably fishing for flounder. We said ‘No way’ to that. We had fished there Wednesday, then went back Thursday and Friday just to be sure the fish were still there, and (we) never caught a flounder. We catch some flounder fishing for reds, but hadn’t there.  That bay was loaded with 25- to 27-inch redfish.”

          Beglin said that in September 2011, he was in contention for Angler of the Year honors in the IFA’s Atlantic Division, and against his better judgment, he and his partner returned to North Carolina try to win the division. This time, they didn’t find the fish until Thursday, but again on Saturday morning, a netter had several nets spanning the bay.

          “Fish had been scarce this year, so we decided to try and fish the mouth of the bay and catch fish that would be leaving,” Beglin said. “We managed to catch one nice fish, but found out where the others were later in the morning. When the netter picked up his nets, they were loaded with redfish, and they were large enough we could hear them thumping as they hit the deck. I was told the netter’s limit was 10 fish, but this fishermen put many more than that in his boat, and we never saw him throw any back. 

          “That afternoon after weigh-in and awards, I voiced how upset I was to the IFA officials, and several other fishermen had similar stories,” Beglin said. “I told them I wouldn’t fish in North Carolina again until something was done. For 2012, they have eliminated the North Carolina tournament from the Atlantic Division. I enjoyed the Surf City area and hate that for them, but it needed to be done.” 

          Bart Schad, director of the IFA Redfish Tour, confirmed the IFA had restructured its trail for the 2012 season and did not have a tournament scheduled for North Carolina. IFA has brought tournaments to North Carolina the past five years and fished two there in 2008 – out of Beaufort and Surf City. Schad said he remembers some fishermen were upset about incidents while fishing tournaments in North Carolina.  

          “In restructuring the IFA Redfish Tour, we weren’t specifically looking to cut the North Carolina tournament out,” Schad said. “We reduced each division from three to two tournaments and added some regional tournaments for multiple divisions. The Surf City tournament had the lowest participation in the Atlantic Division for the past two years, and that was the basis for our decision.  We know some of the fishermen had bad experiences, but the issue of nets and the pending gamefish status weren’t used in our decision. Perhaps those issues influenced the participation numbers, but we based our decision solely on participation.”   

          Chris Floyd, an IFA redfish pro from Charleston, said he had also made the decision not to return to North Carolina for any tournaments. He said he had made several trips to North Carolina for IFA tournaments and had commercial fishermen move in on large schools of drum he had found and disrupt his fishing.  He said IFA officials knew he did not plan to return to after the Surf City tournament last fall. Floyd’s estimate was that 90 percent of out-of-state fishermen said they wouldn’t return to North Carolina for another tournament.

          “I don’t really understand this,” Floyd said. “It was explained to me that the commercial fishermen can only land a few redfish, so why would they be allowed to wrap up a bay with nets and interrupt a tournament that brings 50 to 100 boats with anglers and family members? Most of the tournament fishermen arrive by Wednesday before the tournament on Saturday, and a good number are there for the entire week before to the tournament. 

“The economics just don’t add up,” Floyd said. “When we go to a tournament, we are renting motels or cottages, spending money at restaurants, local tackle shops, doing entertainment things, buying gas for boats and trucks and spending money in many other ways. Then, when we finish the tournament, all the fish are let go to stay in the area. Certainly, this has to be worth more to the local economy than the few drum the commercial fishermen can sell.”

          Bobby Sands is an avid fisherman who lived in several Gulf of Mexico states before retiring to Southport. He said he initially judged the area by all the estuary and marshes around it and thought the fishing would be as good as Texas and Louisiana. He said after several years here, he still thinks the fishery has the habitat to recover and prosper, but the fish badly need the protection of the gamefish bill to do it.

          “I was living near Corpus Christi, Texas, in the 1980s when the inshore fishery there bottomed out.” Sands said. “It was in bad shape, but after less than 10 years with gamefish protection and no gill-netting for reds and trout, it became a premiere fishery. The entire Texas coastal lagoon now has excellent fishing, and Baffin Bay has become a place where 5-pound trout don’t even raise eyebrows, and 8- to 10-pounders are surprisingly common.

          Louisiana also had similar issues,” Sands said. “The demand for blackened redfish had all but destroyed the red drum populations in the Louisiana marshes. Now, after being protected for about two decades, the Louisiana marshes are once again actually the Sportsman’s Paradise they proclaim on their license plates. The limit for redfish is five per day, and the limit for speckled trout is 25. Here, our limits are a single redfish and four trout.  That’s a big difference. 

“I know that given the opportunity, the North Carolina fishery would rebound quickly and could be as good as either Louisiana or Texas, if maybe not better. We have the habitat; we just need the fish to be protected from the constant pressure of commercial fishing, and gamefish status would do that. We would also find the fish are worth a lot more to everyone in the area as a recreational fishery. Many of the guides in Texas and Louisiana are former commercial fishermen, and they will tell you they are far better off now than when they were fishing commercially.”    

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Interview with NCDMF Director Dr. Louis Daniel: On the record about Gamefish Status and NC Fisheries Management

Please take a moment to watch this informative video with NC DMF Director Dr. Louis Daniel.

Ex-commercial angler: North Carolina needs to chart new saltwater course: Words of Wisdom from Capt Charles Brown

Ex-commercial angler: North Carolina needs to chart new saltwater course

“All this water in North Carolina belongs to the people of North Carolina, not just to the people on the coast. We don’t own one tablespoon of this water; it belongs to all of us, every citizen of this state.”  * Charlie Brown, former commercial fisherman and owner of Old Core Sound Guide Service. By Craig Holt

  Charles Brown of Gloucester hails from a fifth-generation Down East fishing family, and proudly proclaims “I’ve done it all.”

  “All” includes dredging for shrimp and oysters, crabbing, setting gill and pound nets for flounder and working as a deckhand on an ocean-going scallop boat. He also worked 18 months as a handyman for the National Park Service at Core Banks until a freak accident in 2000 nearly killed him. He’s also been a waterfowl guide, like his father, grandfather. uncles and great uncles.

  Brown is as Down East as you can get, a true “hoi-toider” whose speech is peppered with distinctive Elizabethan inflections that convert “i” sounds into “oi.”

  At 6-3, 220 pounds, his body is rock hard, with arms wrapped in muscles like tether ropes for tugboats and hands calloused by uncounted days of pulling nets.

  Now 51, he was a commercial fisherman for most of his life because that’s the culture he was born into and that nurtured him — until 2009.

  “I stopped ’cause I saw the writin’ on the wall,” he said recently.

  What Brown saw in a 1,000-yard stare gained by years of studying the waters of Core and Pamlico Sounds was a collapsing marine environment and disappearing fish stocks.

  “I’ve been on both sides of each user group,” he said. “But we’ve let one user group run wild and call the shots for so long, right now you can’t make a decent living. And that means you can’t pay your bills, put your kids through college, and you can’t have what you want.

  “Most of all, there’s nobody there for the resource.” Brown said the situation started turning for the worse 30 years ago.

  “It was 1980,” he said. “When I was young, I used to long-haul shrimp, trawl for crabs, set crab pots, clam and flounder fish off the beaches. It was good.

 “One old feller who owned a fish house, he would look at me and say, ‘It’ll never die; it’ll always replenish itself’ — but he was wrong.”

  New improved commercial gear and too many people taking their livings from a free, public resource started saltwater finfish and shellfish on a downward spiral.

  “One of (the old) guy’s commercial men used to gig 400 pounds of flounder a night, every night,” Brown said, “Then he went to nets — gill and pound nets.”

  Not only that, but inland residents who loved flounder soon discovered they could drive to the coast towing a flat-bottom skiff and gig flatfish or purchase a small-car battery set in a Styrofoam float or in a backpack, wade the shallows and stick all the flounder they wanted — plus extra doormats to feed their friends and neighbors. Many flounder also ended up iced down at inland fish houses or sold at road-side stands.

  Brown pointed to one of his uncles who used a skiff with a deep-cycle battery, light pole and steel gig to go floundering. “It was nothing for him to bring in 300 to 500 pounds of flounder a night,” he said.
“What fish could stand that type of pressure?”

  Of course, this situation caused consternation among commercial giggers.

  Pretty soon the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission and N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries decided recreational anglers who used the same equipment as commercial fishermen, including gigs, had to purchase a Recreational Commercial Gear License. If a recreational angler used a gig for flounder, he had to drop back to recreational limits. The rule, in effect, helped commercial giggers – it left more flounder for them to gig – or it forced former recreational giggers to become commercial giggers. “Big mistake,” Brown said. “They never shoulda done that.”

  When the NCDMF declared southern flounder overfished and size limits for recreational anglers were raised so high that legal-size flounder in the Pamlico and Albemarle sounds became as rare as a Republican legislator getting a donation from the teachers’ union, netters turned to other, more abundant species.

  “Now we don’t have spot runs like we used to, and the croakers are gone,” Brown said. “I used to long-haul spot and croakers, and we’d come back with 1,000 boxes of each. You don’t get that no more.”

  It’s not that Brown blames commercial fishing for doing what it could to land fish, but he believes the political influence of commercial fishing on the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission has led that agency to overlook the devastating effect of increasingly effective gear on targeted fish populations.

  He longs for the old days when a few people could make a decent living, catch plenty of fish, yet there’d still be enough to ensure their survival.

 “When I was young, we used to go mullet fishing with my Uncle Gordon and my granddaddy,” he said. “We used 16-foot push-pole boats, do it at night and hang lanterns up. We used nylon, monofilament nets, and real cork floats. A good night we’d get 100 boxes of mullet, but plenty of mullet would escape.

  “Right now there’s so much equipment, and the technology’s gone so far, the fish ain’t got a chance. Nothing can escape from the bottom (of the nets). Some of them stand up in 15 feet of water.”

  Brown said no one Down East saw flounder gill nets until 1980.

  “We used gigs and pound nets,” he said.

  Now gill-netting for flounder is a preferred inshore method.

  Spotted seatrout pressure by commercials is even tougher on those fish, declared overfished by the NCDMF several years ago.

  Some of it came from Florida, where strike-netting for mullet was ended by a 1994 statewide inshore ban on gill nets. Quite a few Sunshine State netters moved to North Carolina where they could do what they wanted. Local netters adopted strike-net techniques to land other species, particularly spotted seatrout.

 “Say you got a narrow creek, 30- to 50-feet wide,” Brown said. “They set a net right down the middle, snaking back and forth, then they tie a cinder block to a rope and drag it next to the shore to scare the specks out to the middle. That’s where they get caught in the nets.”

  Brown said he revealed this problem — which occurs in winter when specks go into a creek headwaters looking for warmer water and July and August when they go shallow to spawn — to the NCMFC’s Spotted Seatrout Advisory Committee.

“They said, ‘No, we can’t stop that,’ ” he said with disgust.

  Brown’s experience and knowledge of fishing techniques has given him some ideas about how to solve some of these overharvesting problems.

  “First, (NCDMF) could put those shallow creeks off-limits to everyone a couple of winter months and in July and August, or allow catch-and-release only rec fishing and no strike-netting those months,” he said. “If a rec gets caught those months with five or six specks in his cooler, it’s $100 fine for each fish. That’d break his heart and his pocketbook. If a netter got caught (in an off-limits creek), take his boat and his nets.

  “I guarantee that’d stop this stuff.”

   As for NCDMF’s revelation that 10 percent of specks die from deep-hooking, Brown said there’s a simple solution.

  “Most of the fish (deep-hooked) are ‘squealers’ (under-size trout) that swallow Gulp! baits, not big trout or fish that bite shrimp baits,” he said. “What’s keeping MFC from making a rule you have to use barbless hooks? They do it with mountain trout, so why not coastal trout?”

  As for red drum, Brown said he wouldn’t target specific dealers, but he said something obviously is amiss, with North Carolina supplying 90 percent of the nation’s red drum for consumption but having a 250,000-pound annual cap.

 “Somebody needs to look at how many trip tickets (for red drum) and the poundages come into (a fish house) and the trip tickets (poundages) written for Marine Fisheries that go out the door,” he said. “I’ll just say a lot of those (netters) are paid in cash, and if a (gamefish-status) bill goes through, it has a 3-year (compensation) for netters. But they’ll have to produce trip tickets to get that money. And I think that’s probably a reason why they don’t want this bill.”

  Brown said it might sound like he’s anti-commercial fishing, but that’s not the case.

  “I’m for commercial fishing,” he said. “I was born into it. But we’ve lost the conservation part and aren’t putting anything back. The recreational guys have backed down and backed down, going with the flow. But the commercial guys never back down; they want more and more.

  “No one’s in the middle for the poor fish.”

   Brown said he wishes his commercial fishing compadres had more concern for the resource and not immediate monetary gains.

  “When I went into (guiding), I found it’s a better living; it’s a lot easier; and a lot more fun if you’re a people person,” he said.

  “I’m a people person; I enjoy people.”

  He also said he would help ex-commercial anglers become guides and already has done so for a handful of his friends. If changes occur in gamefish management, he said there’d be enough fish for everyone.

  “Commercial fishermen would be the best guides you ever saw,” he said.

   Mainly though, Brown believes his occupation is better for coastal resources, and he thinks measures can be taken — if the state’s legislators have the courage to ignore then remove political influences from marine fisheries management — to bring back his beloved sounds to near what they once were.

  “Down here, Core and Pamlico Sounds are diamonds,” he said. “To us they are the most valuable things in the state of North Carolina.

   “I’ve talked to guides from Louisiana, and they told me if we managed our fish the right way, we could blow them out of the water, because we’ve got the water and habitat to do it. People would come from other states to fish here, and people from here would stay instead of going to South Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi or Florida.

“We’ve just got to stop somewhere, throw the brakes on and turn this whole thing around.”

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Fisheries Decisions Have Broad Economic Consequences

     This article is republished by CFRGNC with permission from Author Scott Mooneyham~

Today in North Carolina -- Capitol Press Association -- 919-836-2858 Written January 16, 2012, – Fisheries Decisions Have Broad Economic Consequences, by Scott Mooneyham

RALEIGH -- This past fall, I didn't take a trip down to the North Carolina coast. Neither did a few of my friends.

For much of my adult life, the cool, shorter days of late October and November typically involved one or two fishing trips to the Morehead City area in search of saltwater trout and puppy drum.

The cooler waters at that time of year cause the fish to begin piling out of the sounds, allowing fishermen to target these favored species in and around inlets. My friend, Jack, and I talked about going this year, but decided against it. "Why bother? They won't let you keep any," he said.

His chief complaint was about the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission's decision to further reduce the speckled sea trout daily creel limit to four fish. A couple of years earlier, the commission had trimmed the limit from 10 to six fish. The limit on gray trout had already been dropped to one fish per day. For several years now, the creel limit for red drum has been one fish per day, and only fish in the 3 to 7 lb.-class can be kept.

So, for inshore and near-shore fishermen in smaller boats, the opportunities to catch and take home these fish in any numbers have diminished dramatically. 

I point that out not as criticism of fisheries officials or the nine-member commission. They are often caught between trying to manage dwindling fish populations and an uncompromising commercial fishing industry that views most commercial restrictions as an unwarranted attack sure to destroy life as we know it. To those commercial fishermen, my buddy Jack is a "rich fat cat" who only wants to "keep all the fish for himself." (That’s how some commercial fishermen recently described recreational fishermen unhappy with the current state of inshore coastal fisheries.)

Actually, he's a mechanic who works at an electrical power plant and whose chief recreational investment is his center-console boat. The name-calling has come amid a legislative proposal to put speckled trout, red drum and striped bass off limits to commercial fishermen, to place a game fish-only status on those species.

It's unclear whether the proposal has broad support among state legislators.

Eliminating a striped bass commercial fishery -- given rising catch numbers and a commercial value four times greater than the other two species -- seems especially harsh.

Recreational fishing groups, though, aren't in any mood to compromise. If they gain the political upper hand, they'll likely turn the same unhearing ear to the commercial fishermen's complaints that they believe they have received. 

The larger point -- one that policy makers and business leaders along the coast ignore at their own risk -- is that these fisheries management decisions have economic consequences that extend beyond the commercial fishing industry.  

The choice that my buddy Jack and I made back in October cost Morehead-area businesses $400 to $500.

We weren't alone.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Joe Albea: On the Record with NC Sportsman about the state of NC Fisheries

   The following article is from the latest by Craig Holt at  http://www.northcarolinasportsman.com/details.php?id=2307

Albea: North Carolina can fix what’s wrong with saltwater management

By Craig Holt - January 13, 2012
Joe Albea, 57, remembers when Pamlico Sound was full of big croakers and gray trout, along with many other species.

“Croakers and gray trout were the two breadwinners in the sound back in the ’70s,” said Albea, a Greenville native who produces and hosts two UNC-TV shows: Carolina Outdoor Journal and Exploring Carolina. “Fishing was great for recreational and commercial anglers then, but we didn’t have the big trawlers out there.”

Now, years after large ocean-going trawls started using the sound, anglers can find a few croakers, but they’re mostly tiny fish, usually less than a pound in weight, and the gray trout have all but disappeared.
To paraphrase the words at the end of the move “King Kong:” “T’wasn’t netting that killed the sound, but big nets.”
Commercial – and to a lesser extent, recreational – fishing also has ripped apart Southern flounder stocks and kept spotted seatrout numbers and sizes low, as well as red drum – until they finally were protected somewhat by a 10-fish netting by-catch allowance and a daily hook-and-line limit of one fish.
But Albea, who saw the North Carolina coast once support both activities, isn’t dead set against all netting.
“It’s just the amount of gear … and the large trawlers,” he said. “Back in the day of small, wooden trawl boats, they didn’t tear up the sound as bad, and by-catch wasn’t as big an issue. Today, the big ocean steel-haul trawlers continue to turn over the bottom.
“Commercial gear and recreational pressure, to some extent, destroyed inside flounder. No fishery can sustain that kind of pressure, and Pamlico Sound, as big as it is, has paid the price.”
After the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries put restrictions on the recreational giggers’ take of flounder – setting identical limits to those governing hook-and-line anglers – commercial fishermen simply turned to gill nets and pound nets, which could be fished without restriction. Not only that, but the minimum size netters were permitted to land was an inch shorter than the recreational size limit. And the slaughter continued.
For example, when the recreational size limit for flounder was 12 inches and the commercial size limit was 11 inches, flounder larger than 12 became as scarce as abortionists at a Rick Santorum rally.
“Back in the history of Pamlico Sound, sailors had a hard time navigating the sound because of its oyster beds. I’m pretty sure when the big trawlers started entering the sound, that’s when the oyster beds started going downhill,” Albea said.
Ocean-going trawlers drag heavy chains across the bottom, kicking up shrimp and other species that are caught in the trawler’s tail bags, then hoisted aboard ship. But this method destroys the habitats of oysters and clams, and it tears up underwater grasses where baitfish and even ocean species spawn and their fry hide. With no protection, small fish are easy prey for larger predators.
“There’s also the by-catch problem,” Albea said.
By-catch is a term to describe “incidental take” of untargeted fish in order to land a valuable commercial species, in particular, shrimp.
“I know it’s been said for each pound of shrimp, trawl nets kill 10 pounds of other species, but I’ve talked to experts who say that ratio is much higher,” Albea said.
When Florida voted to ban inshore netting in 1994 – six years after giving gamefish status to red drum – it created another problem for North Carolina’s saltwater fishery.
“A lot of the Florida people moved to North Carolina,” Albea said.
The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries allowed the Floridians to purchase North Carolina commercial fishing licenses, and North Carolina residents could transfer or sell their commercial licenses to the Floridians – even though North Carolina had put a moratorium on the sale of additional commercial licenses. Commercial fishermen from Florida were particularly interested in landing striped mullet, a species they decimated through years of netting in the Sunshine State.
“The Florida guys showed our commercial guys a lot of their tricks,” Albea said.
A favorite technique is to set a net across the mouth of a creek, motor to the back of the creek, and then whack the sides of the boat with a paddle while moving forward, scaring the fish toward the creek mouth and into the net.
“A strike netter can clean out a creek of specks in less than an hour,” Albea said.
And until recently, North Carolina never had an annual total-allowable catch for speckled trout.
As for the gamefish bill and its reincarnation as part of the legislature’s Committee on Marine Fisheries, Albea said the issue is fairly simple.
“It’s the state’s decision whether or not we want a world-class fishery for those three species (red drum, speckled trout and striped bass), and a high-quality fishery for other species,” Albea said. “We can’t have Mother Nature, recreational and commercial fishing putting this much pressure on certain species, especially speckled trout.”
Albea has fought many battles successfully for natural resources at the North Carolina coast, including opposing a proposed paper mill and barges on the Roanoke River “smack in the middle of the best striped bass spawning grounds on the east coast,” plus the OLF – “a 7-year battle against the Navy” – and more recently, proposed windmills in the same area as the OLF.
But Albea always has preferred to remain in the background as an idea man and technical advisor.
“I’ve never used Carolina Outdoors Journal to promote any position,” he said. “It’s just a fishing show, mainly. Oh, I’ve been accused of using the show to promote positions, but that’s never been true and never will happen.”
Now, however, he’s stepping forward.
“In my opinion, (the saltwater fisheries decline in North Carolina) is a problem that’s been building over 30 years,” Albea said, “and we’ve all, recreational and commercial fishermen, contributed to it in certain ways.
And now we need to fix it.”
Keep up with all the developments on the fight to protect redfish, trout and stripers on the special NorthCarolinaSportsman.com page dedicated to gaining gamefish status for these valuable saltwater fisheries.

Joe Albea of Greenville has been a crusader for coastal resources for many years, and he's now pushing for changes in the management of redfish, speckled trout and stripers fisheries in North Carolina.
Courtesy of Joe Albea
Joe Albea of Greenville has been a crusader for coastal resources for many years, and he's now pushing for changes in the management of redfish, speckled trout and stripers fisheries in North Carolina.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Must Read Article by Craig Holt of NC Sportsman Mag concerning the Gamefish Bill

This article has been copied and pasted from NC Sportsman Magazine, authored by Craig Holt. Take the time to read this and you'll see why Gamefish Status is so important to coastal economies. Help promote sustainable fishing and vote YES to the Gamefish Bill. Write your Legislators, every voice counts!


Link to the story landing page: http://www.northcarolinasportsman.com/details.php?id=2283

Numbers tell the tale of North Carolina’s saltwater gamefish decisionRecreational coastal fishing much more important to state economy than commercial fishing, stats show.

By Craig Holt

Recreational saltwater anglers far outnumber commercial fishermen in North Carolina, making them a powerful force for achieving gamefish status for redfish, spotted sea trout and stripers.

Two numbers jump out of the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries’ 2010 report on the state of the Tarheel State’s saltwater fisheries.The total commercial catch from the state’s coastal waters was slightly more than 72 million ponds, while the recreational catch was between 14 and 15 million pounds.

That’s everything: flounder, spotted sea trout, red drum, striper, spot, bluefish, bonito, eel, grouper, cobia, amberjack, grunt, hake, mullet, perch, pinfish, pompano, scup, porgie, pufferfish and shad. All of them.Some other numbers also jump off the page. In 2010, the state sold 5,179 commercial fishing licenses, of which 2,522 were bought by active commercial fishermen. The state also sold 296,175 recreational licenses to in-state purchasers and another 240,000 to out-of-staters, and fishermen who own lifetime licenses, bringing to around 800,000 the total number of people eligible to fish with hook-and-line in North Carolina coastal waters. So what’s the big deal about these numbers? If they are accurate, and NCDMF makes a big effort to ensure that they are, the average commercial netter caught 28,559 pounds of fish during 2010. Meanwhile, the recreational angler caught 18 pounds.

Well, one might ask, what’s the problem? It’s pretty simple. Recreational fishermen figured out a while back that the policies of the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission – the appointed board that gives NCDMF staff members their marching orders – caters for the most part to the wishes of netters, even though recreational anglers outnumber netters by a factor of 533 to 1. Over the past two years, recreational angler groups – including the Coastal Conservation Association of North Carolina, Coastal Fisheries Reform Group and the N.C. Wildlife Federation’s Camouflage Coalition – have tried through the state legislature to obtain gamefish status for three species of saltwater fish: red drum, spotted seatrout and striped bass.Two bills were drafted and derailed in the legislature, but their supporters rallied after the latest rebuff last year and asked legislators to revive the effort. The legislators, mostly Republicans, rolled the gamefish status proposal into an expansive review of the way North Carolina manages its saltwater resources, whether or not they’re allocated for their optimum use. Committee members such as co-chair Darrell McCormick (R-Forsyth) and co-chair Harry Brown (R-Onslow, Jones) have said the committee will conduct thorough studies of how saltwater agencies are managed in other states and will make decisions based on facts obtained by their staff researchers.

If they check out the NCDMF’s 2010 Fisheries Bulletin, committee staff and members will discover:

• Commercial landings of ocean striped bass totaled 499,740 pounds, worth $1,220,542; spotted sea trout catches were 200,500 pounds, worth $350,349; and red drum totaled 231,760 pounds, worth $421,659.

These three species added together accounted for $1,992,550 in netting income.

• Striped bass totaled only 1.36 percent of all commercial fishing trips; red drum were less than 1 percent (.51) and spotted seatrout totaled 1.03 percent – a total of 2.9 percent.

The income these three species produced, $88,131,778, was 2.2 percent of all commercial fishing income.

• In 2010, only 250 commercial fishing participants statewide had landings of $2,000 or more from the sale of red drum, spotted seatrout, and striped bass combined. Of those, fewer than 30 had landings of $10,000 or more.

Dare and Carteret are the two counties with the largest commercial fishing operations in North Carolina, as measured by the number of commercial fishing participants and landings value. In 2009, Dare had commercial seafood landings of $21,930,359 with a total economic impact of approximately $40,000,000. On the other hand, in fiscal year 2009-2010, Dare County’s tourism-driven economy produced taxable sales of $1,136,418,490, indicating the total economic impact from commercial fishing represented only 3.5 percent. In 2009, Carteret had total commercial seafood landings of $9,542,039 for a total economic impact of approximately $18,000,000. In fiscal year 2009-2010, Carteret County’s tourism-driven economy produced taxable sales of $844,689,004, indicating that the total economic impact from commercial fishing represented only 2 percent of Carteret County’s economy.

It’s the position of supporters of the gamefish bill that almost no commercial fishermen would lose a significant amount of their income by being forced to switch from red drum, speckled trout and stripers to other species. According to federal fisheries managers, the total economic impact from coastal recreational fishing trips and durable equipment expenditures in North Carolina in 2008 was approximately $2.3 billion and supported 22,000 jobs.
According to NCDMF, commercial fishing in 2010 accounted for 3,997 North Carolina jobs. Below is a summary of the number of registered voters (according to the N.C. Board of Elections), the number of recreational saltwater fishing license holders and commercial fishing license holders for Dare and Carteret counties in 2010.

Registered Recreational CommercialVoters license holders
• Carteret 47,831 11,274 (24%) 1,106 (2%)
• Dare 26,758 6,178 (23%) 827 (3%)
• Total 74,589 17,452 (23%) 1,933 (3%)

Any coastal politician who opposes some type of saltwater reform, particularly game-fish status for red drum, spotted seatrout and striped bass will be hanging a sign on his back that says, “Kick Me Out Of Office.”

    For more up to date information on the Gamefish Bill stay tuned to the Coastal Fisheries Reform Group page!